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Denizens Of The Jungle

Bromeliads For Shady Gardens Most gardens, particularly in older sections of a city, are quite shady. As the gardens mature, shade levels increase, even where plantings have been well planned. Many gardeners will look on these shady gardens and wish for more light. With light comes colour, as many of the more brightly coloured perennials need lots of sunlight to bring out their best. Often, this is the stage when the heavy artillery is brought in. Chainsaws, mulchers, trucks and trailers are used to chop, chip and cart the extra vegetation away. But there is an alternative. Instead of bringing in the chainsaw to let the light in, use plants that are adapted to dense shade conditions. Some of the best of these are Bromeliads.

These denizens of the jungle are very well adapted to shade, down to the darkest depths of dense forest. Indeed, most of the shade loving Bromeliads will either scorch or lose leaf colour with direct sun. Many of the shade loving Bromeliads are also surprisingly hardy, with many of the types mentioned in this article capable of withstanding several degrees of frost. Some of the shade loving Bromeliads are very easily recognised, these are the glossy leafed plants that are Burgundy or Bronze coloured on the underside of their leaves. This is a special adaptation to the low light levels which are found at the lower levels of a dense forest. The trick that these plants have developed is to let the light penetrate the leaf through the upper surface, then bounce back some of this light within the leaf, by the specially adapted, coloured cells on the lower surface. Aechmea 'Big Stuff', Aechmea 'Royal Wine' and Nidularium innocentii are all very good examples of this type of plant. Some of the best ways to show off these plants is on top of a retaining wall, where they can cascade from the top and where the deep Burgundy can be seen best. Aechmea 'Royal Wine' is very good for this as the orange and blue berries hang over the side. There are some shade loving Bromeliad varieties that have burgundy colouring on both sides of the leaf. These can be very dramatic, especially the dark, almost black types like Aechmea 'Black Jack', Canistropsis billbergioides 'Plum' and Nidularium innocentii 'Nana'. These dark rosettes make a great contrast to light green foliage such as Maidenhair fern.


Neoregelia 'Maggies Pride'

Green leafed shade loving Bromeliad species often have very spectacular flowers. This is to attract birds and insects in the dark jungle depths. Gardeners can make good use of this attribute by planting these glorious flowering plants under dense foliage. The Aechmea genus has many of these types, such as Aechmea gamosepala and Aechmea weilbachii, which provide dramatic spires of blue and deep pink for many weeks. The flowers are often followed by very colourful seed heads, which last for several more months. Although the seed heads develop, it is rare for these to be fertile. For viewing from above, such as along a mossy path amongst the ferns, it is hard to beat Canistropsis billbergioides, which comes in several colours, such as 'Citron', 'Persimmon' and 'Tutti Frutti'. The brightly coloured flowers resemble stars and are held quite close to the foliage. The main flowering season is autumn and early winter, although the flowers last so long that good colour can still be visible in spring. The apple green foliage comes in a tidy rosette and these plants are very prolific, producing up to 3 pups per year. Although many people think of the Neoregelia genus as being best suited to sunny gardens, in fact many of the most spectacular do quite well in dense shade.


Neoregelia 'Lila'

For foliage interest, use variegated types such as Neoregelia 'Maggies Pride' and Neoregelia carolinae var tricolor. The stripes of green, pink and cream are simply delicious. Neoregelia carolinae, Neoregelia carolinae marechalii, and Neoregelia carolinae princeps are some of the best Bromeliads. In deep shade the foliage stays dark glossy green, but at flowering the centre leaves change colour, looking like they have been sprayed with lacquer. There are a huge range of colours available, from light pink, through red, crimson, orange, lavender, amethyst and purple. Try these in mass plantings on shaded sloping banks, where the mass of colours will take visitors breaths away. The Nidulariums, like the Canistropsis, are very well suited to deep shade. The brightly coloured star shaped flower bracts are held close to the foliage, giving a similar appearance to Neoregelia. Some, such as Nidularium Madame Robert Morobe, can grow quite large, with a span approaching 1metre. Nidularium 'Something Special', is a very good hybrid bred by a New Zealander, and is similar to Nidularium rutilans, with it's dark red flower bracts and lightly mottled green foliage. There are a also few variegated Nidularium, such as innocentii var lineatum, which provide a chance to lighten the dark areas with their liberal stripes of white. Use Bromeliads, these denizens of the jungle, wherever bright colours and dramatic foliage are needed. Beside trickling streams, along mossy paths, surrounding quiet pools and under subtropical foliage, these plants are adapted for the conditions.


A planting of Canistropsis


Nidularium innocenti 'Lineatum'